Merkley, Local Stakeholders Announce Major Investments in Klamath Basin

KLAMATH FALLS, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, joined by representatives from Klamath-area irrigation districts and tribes, today announced significant investments in the Klamath Basin were included in the 2019 spending bills that recently were passed by Congress and signed by the president.

“These big national bills often seem far removed from the concerns of life on the ground here in Oregon. But included in the spending package were bipartisan agricultural investments that are having real, lasting, on-the-ground impacts in rural communities throughout our state—including right here in the Klamath Basin,” Merkley said. “As the top Democrat on the Agriculture and Rural Development Subcommittee, and the only member of the Oregon delegation in either chamber to serve on the appropriations committee, I will continue to work to ensure that programs critical to Oregon’s farmers, ranchers and tribes are funded, and that those in the Klamath Basin and agricultural communities across our state have the resources and support that they need to thrive.”

“Stability for our farms, survival of the species and success of our community all hinge on addressing the issues in collaborative, creative ways,” said Tricia Hill, owner of Gold Dust & Walker Farms. “To have support of Senator Merkley not only helps to bring us together, it gives us the ability to actually come up with a long-term solution that benefits us all. Thank you, Senator.”

“I thank Senator Merkley for bringing folks in the Basin together to look at the real issues affecting Klamath Lake and the fish that are so important to us,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes. “I thank him for holding the Sucker Recovery Summit in November and for the $4 million in federal support for our propagation projects. We are committed to continuing to move things in the right direction to improve water quality and the health of the C’waam and Koptu.”

“Senator Merkley has been working hard for our farms, the Klamath Tribes and habitat. He has secured over $75 million in the last three years with $25 million in the last year for irrigation modernization,” said Mason Terry, board member of Modoc Point Irrigation District. “Let’s honor his hard work by doing what each of us can to protect the environment, help our basin’s economy and come to a sustainable solution to the crisis upon us. Irrigation modernization is crucial for the Klamath Basin to recover the endangered sucker, pave the way for the return of the salmon and provide water predictability for farming families so all can thrive.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. As the top Democrat on the Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley helped write the Agriculture and Rural Development bill, securing billions of dollars of investments to help rural communities across Oregon and across the country, including funding to help address water resource issues in the Klamath Basin.

Investments that will benefit agricultural communities in Oregon include:

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: Merkley continued his support progress toward a long-term water resource solution in the Klamath Basin by securing $4 million for local efforts, including $3.5 million to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing USFWS and Klamath Tribes’ efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties, including Klamath, that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of over $300 million in funding to for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of our nation’s agricultural systems. Merkley also secured funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs on Sudden Oak Death, alfalfa, pear, wheat, hops, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, and nurseries.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: For the third consecutive year, the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program received $150 million, including funding for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative process underway in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business. Modoc Point Irrigation District and several Project irrigation districts are currently in planning process and will be able to access this funding as soon as their planning is complete.

Wildfire Prevention: The bill includes funding increases for several programs to prevent wildfires, reduce hazardous fuels, and support important research activities. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management each received an additional $5 million for hazardous fuels reduction. The Joint Fire Science Program, which funds fire management research focused on applied research, received an additional $3 million. Merkley also protected funding for vegetation and water management activities within national forests

Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the coming fire season, Merkley secured $2.5 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior, which is $100 million above the last fiscal year. In the omnibus, Congress enacted a provision to allow federal agencies to use disaster money to fund fire suppression efforts beyond a certain point. Unfortunately, the provision does not come into effect until Fiscal Year 2020. The additional $508 million included in the bill will help minimize the amount of money borrowed from fire prevention and other forest management programs to pay for wildfire fighting during this fire season.

Collaborative Forest Management: The bill includes $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), which was targeted for elimination in the President’s budget. Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Merkley won authorization to double the size of the program in future budgets.

Salmon Management: Programs to help manage salmon populations, which include the operations and maintenance of Mitchell Act hatcheries and the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, received $37 million, a $1.5 million increase. 

Salmon Recovery: The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund received $65 million. President Trump proposed eliminating this competitive grant program, which is designed to address declining Pacific salmon and steelhead populations by supporting conservation efforts in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Since 2000, the program has funded $3 billion in projects—including $1.3 billion in awards and $1.7 billion in state and other matching funds—that have helped prevent the extinction of the 28 listed salmon and steelhead species on the West Coast. This funding can be an expanded source of money for restoration projects in the Upper Basin after the Klamath dams are removed and salmon return to Upper Klamath Lake and beyond.